macOS 12.3 will break cloud-storage features used by Dropbox and OneDrive

Psychedelic illustration of two hills.

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

If you’re using either Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive to sync files on a Mac, you’ll want to pay attention to the release notes for today’s macOS 12.3 beta: the update is deprecating a kernel extension used by both apps to download files on demand. The extension means that files are available when you need them but don’t take up space on your disk when you don’t. Apple says that “both service providers have replacements for this functionality currently in beta.”

Both Microsoft and Dropbox started alerting users to this change before the macOS beta even dropped. Dropbox’s page is relatively sparse. The page notifies users that Dropbox’s online-only file functionality will break in macOS 12.3 and that a beta version of the Dropbox client with a fix will be released in March.

Microsoft’s documentation for OneDrive’s Files On-Demand feature is more detailed. It explains that Microsoft will be using Apple’s File Provider extensions for future OneDrive versions, that the new Files On-Demand feature will be on by default, and that Files On-Demand will be supported in macOS 12.1 and later.

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#biz-it, #dropbox, #macos, #onedrive, #tech

Dropbox starts testing native Apple M1 support

The front of a closed, silver-colored laptop on a table

Enlarge / The 2021 MacBook Pro needs an emulator to run Dropbox’s app. (credit: Samuel Axon)

A recently released beta version of Dropbox’s app for macOS supports Apple Silicon in the current MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, 24-inch iMac, and Mac Mini. The move makes good on the company’s promise to offer native support for M1-based Macs.

Apple debuted its M1 silicon in 2020. Until now, Dropbox did not offer a native version of its file-hosting service for computers using Apple’s chips, frustrating some professional users who rely on and pay for the program for work.

Without the beta, M1 users are required to use Rosetta 2, software that translates apps with x86_64 instructions for Apple’s Arm-based silicon, in order to use the Dropbox app. Running Rosetta 2, however, can generally have an effect on battery life, memory, and performance. For most users, Rosetta 2 is a sufficient solution for running Intel-based applications. And it’s possible that some lesser-known apps will never get transitioned to M1 systems at all.

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#apple, #apple-m1, #dropbox, #tech

OneDrive joins Dropbox in committing to native M1 Mac support

The 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro stacked on top of the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Enlarge / The 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro stacked on top of the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Microsoft has announced a public preview of OneDrive sync for ARM devices, signaling that a public release of a native version of OneDrive on M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max Macs will arrive eventually.

9to5Mac first discovered and reported on the announcement after Microsoft’s Ankita Kirti posted the following to the OneDrive blog this morning:

We’re excited to announce that OneDrive sync for Windows on ARM and for Apple silicon is now available as a public preview!

We know this has been a long awaited and highly requested feature, and we’re thrilled to make it available for early access.

To enable the preview, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve joined the Insiders ring and enabled the preview in OneDrive Settings > About.

We will be rolling out this feature to the Insiders ring over the next few days. 

Native app support for Apple’s architecture has been marching aggressively forward across the macOS software ecosystem. There are still some major exceptions, of course, like Microsoft Visual Studio 2019 and Autodesk Maya, but by and large, we’ve seen a lot of popular applications go native since the debut of the M1 last year.

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#apple, #apple-silicon, #dropbox, #m1, #m1-max, #m1-pro, #microsoft, #onedrive, #tech

The pure hell of managing your JPEGs

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Alex and Grace and Chris were joined by none other than TechCrunch’s own Mary Ann Azevedo, in her first-ever appearance on the show. She’s pretty much the best person and we’re stoked to have her on the pod.

And it was good that Mary Ann was on the show this week as she wrote about half the dang site. Which meant that we got to include all sorts of her work in the rundown. Here’s the agenda:

And that’s a wrap, for, well, at least the next 5 seconds.
Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#boston, #brazil, #brex, #design, #dropbox, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fintech, #flink, #fundings-exits, #grammarly, #latam, #latin-america, #noredink, #nubank, #playbook, #ramp, #startups

Playbook, which aims to be the ‘Dropbox for designers,’ raises $4M in round led by Founders Fund

When Jessica Ko was head of design at Google and then Opendoor, she realized that her teams spent about 90% of their time digging around Dropbox looking for assets.

In many cases, they’d find older versions. Or they couldn’t find what they were looking for. Or even worse, they’d accidentally pick the wrong asset.

“It was such a chaotic process,” Ko recalls. “Anyone could go in and alter things and change folder structures around. It was a total mess, and just continued like that because there was no alternative.”

As Opendoor grew in size, the problem became an even bigger one, she said. 

“Designers were quitting because it was giving them so much anxiety,” Ko recalls. “Dropbox hadn’t solved it yet. Google Drive was not a good alternative either. Designers deal with files the most, and we’re exchanging files constantly.

Besides the frustration and stress the problem of file storage and sharing caused, not being able to locate the correct assets also led to errors, which in turn led to lots of money lost, according to Ko.

“We spent a lot of money on photo shoots because we couldn’t find new things, or people would have to recreate designs,” she said. 

On top of that, she said, designers weren’t the only ones who needed to access the assets. Finance teams were constantly needing them for things like creating pitch decks.

So in 2018, Ko left Opendoor to set about solving the problem she was tired of dealing with by creating file storage for modern design workflows and processes. Or put more simply, she wanted to build a new kind of cloud storage that would serve as an alternative to Dropbox and Google Drive “built by, and for, creatives.”

In early 2020, Ko (CEO) teamed up with Alex Zirbel (CTO) to launch San Francisco-based Playbook, which she describes as the “Dropbox for designers,” to tackle the challenge. And today, the startup has emerged from stealth and announced it has raised $4 million in a seed funding round led by Founders Fund at a $20 million post-money valuation.

Other investors in the round include Abstract, Inovia, Maple, Basis Set, Backend, Wilson Sonsini and a number of angels, including Opendoor co-founder and CEO Eric Wu, Gusto co-founder Eddie Kim and SV Angel’s Beth Turner.

The first thing Playbook set out to do was attempt to reinvent the way folders exist for assets, with subfolders underneath. And then, the company set about trying to change the way people share files. 

“Since so much is done over email and Slack these days, version control becomes even more difficult,” Ko told TechCrunch. So Playbook, she said, has built a storage system that can be accessed by all parties as opposed to just sending files via different channels.

“For years, these assets have been dropped into what feels like a file cabinet,” Ko said. “But these days, sharing assets is much more collaborative and there’s different kinds of parties involved such as freelancers and contractors. So who is managing these files, and controlling the versions has become very complex.”

Playbook offers 4TB of free storage, which Ko says is 266 times the free version of Google Storage and 2,000 times that of Dropbox. The hope is that this encourages users to use its platform as an all-around creative hub without worrying about running out of storage space. It also automatically scans, organizes and tags files and has worked to make it easier to browse files and folders visually.

Image Credits: Playbook

In March, Playbook opened a beta version of its product to the design community and got about 1,000 users in two months. People continued to sign up and the company at one point had to close the beta so that it could manage all the new users.

Today, it has about 10,000 users signed up in beta. Early users include individual freelancers to design teams at companies like Fast, Folx and Literati.

The seven-person company wants to focus on getting the product “right” before attempting to monetize and launch to enterprises (which will likely happen next year), Ko said.

For now, Playbook is focused on the needs of freelancers. The company believes that the exponential growth of freelancers post-pandemic means “cloud storage needs to be smarter.”

“We want to first solve that use case, and unlock the problem from the bottom up,” Ko told TechCrunch. 

Also, another strategy behind that initial focus is that freelancers can also introduce Playbook to the companies and enterprises they work for, so the marketing then becomes built into the product.

“They can transfer assets and files through Playbook to their clients, who tend to adopt,” she said.

Today, Playbook is helping manage over 2 million assets and says it has “hundreds of waitlist sign-ups” every month.

Looking ahead, Zirbel said the startup wants to branch out into image scanning, similarity, content detection, previewing and long-term cloud storage and tons of integrations.

“There are lots of interesting technology challenges when you focus on the creative side of cloud storage,” he said.

Founders Fund’s John Luttig said when the firm first met Ko and Zirbel last year, it was “clear that they had a depth of understanding and thoughtfulness around file management” that his firm hadn’t seen before. Plus, in his view, there has been very little innovation in cloud storage since Dropbox launched in 2007. 

“The product leverages modern design, collaboration principles, and artificial intelligence to make file management much faster and easier,” he wrote via email. “Given their design-centric backgrounds, they’re extremely well-positioned to rethink the user experience for file systems from the ground up.”

Playbook, he said, is able to leverage recent advancements in computer vision and design “to build a far better product to manage and share files.”

#designers, #dropbox, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jessica-ko, #john-luttig, #opendoor, #playbook, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #storage, #venture-capital

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

? Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

? Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

?  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

? YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

? London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

? Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides?….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

? Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

? London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

? Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

#adt, #afterpay, #alibaba, #android, #ant-group, #api, #app-maker, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #australia, #automattic, #beijing, #biden-administration, #canada, #china, #cloud-services, #coinbase, #coinbase-card, #computing, #day-one, #dragoneer-investment-group, #driver, #dropbox, #duolingo, #emojipedia, #eta, #facebook, #fintech-startup, #food-delivery, #game-center, #game-developer, #general-atlantic, #general-partner, #georgia, #gif, #google, #hyperconnect, #instagram, #ios, #ios-devices, #ipad, #iphone, #italy, #itunes, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #kuaishou, #kuda, #law-enforcement, #london, #ma, #maine, #meituan, #microsoft, #middle-east, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #online-creators, #onstar, #operating-system, #palta, #playdemic, #quora, #sean-rad, #sensor-tower, #sequoia-capital, #smartphone, #snap, #snapchat, #social-network, #social-networking, #software, #south-africa, #south-asia, #spotify, #stories, #target-global, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #valar-ventures, #viasat, #vnv-global, #wi-fi, #wordpress-com, #zedge, #zynga

BioNTech founder Uğur Şahin and Mayfield’s Ursheet Parikh are coming to Disrupt

It’s hard to argue that any technology company has had a greater impact in the past decade than BioNTech, the mRNA-based therapeutics pioneer behind the world’s most widely-used COVID-19 vaccine. Developed in record time in partnership with Pfizer, thanks to an existing partnership to work on immunization for the common flu, BioNTech’s mRNA inoculation is without a doubt one of the biggest medical innovations of the past century.

BioNTech co-founder and CEO Uğur Şahin isn’t stopping there, of course: the company recently announced that it would be developing an mRNA-based vaccine targeting malaria, an illness that still kills more than 400,000 people per year. It also has treatments for a range of cancers in process in its development pipeline, and has announced plans to address HIV and tuberculosis with future candidates.

This year at Disrupt 2021, Şahin will join us along with Mayfield Fund Partner Ursheet Parikh, a key investor in BioNTech. Both Şahin and Parikh will be talking to us about how the COVID-19 vaccine came to be, but more importantly, about what the future holds for mRNA technology and its potential to address a wide range of chronic healthcare problems that have been tough challenges to solve for decades or even centuries. We’ll also be talking about what it means to build a biotech startup with true platform potential, and how that might differ now as compared to what investors were looking for just a few short years ago.

Şahin and Parikh are just two of the many high-profile speakers who will be on our Disrupt Stage and the Extra Crunch Stage. During the three-day event, writer, director, actor and Houseplant co-founder Seth Rogen will be joined by Houseplant Chief Commercial Officer Haneen Davies and co-founder and CEO Michael Mohr to talk about the business of weed, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will talk about the future of getting around and the government’s role in partnering with startups, and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong will dig into the volatile world of cryptocurrency and his company’s massive direct listing earlier this year.

Disrupt 2021 wouldn’t be complete without Startup Battlefield, the competition that launched some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Cloudflare and Dropbox. Join Secretary Buttigieg and over 10,000 of the startup world’s most influential people at Disrupt 2021 online this September 21-23. Check out the Disrupt 2021 agenda. We’ll add even more speakers.

Buy your Disrupt pass before July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT), and get ready to join the big, bold and influential — for less than $100.

Get your pass to attend now for under $99 for a limited time!

#articles, #biontech, #brian-armstrong, #ceo, #clinical-trials, #cloudflare, #coinbase, #dropbox, #events, #hiv, #illness, #life-sciences, #malaria, #mayfield-fund, #medical-research, #pete-buttigieg, #pfizer, #secretary, #tc, #tc-disrupt, #tc-disrupt-2021, #technology, #ugur-sahin, #ursheet-parikh

Dropbox is reimagining the workplace with Dropbox Studios

The pandemic has been a time for a lot of reflection on both a personal and business level. Tech companies in particular are assessing whether they will ever again return to a full time, in-office approach. Some are considering a hybrid approach and some may not go back to a building at all. Amidst all this, Dropbox has decided to reimagine the office with a new concept they are introducing this week called Dropbox Studios.

Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston sees the pandemic as a forcing event, one that pushes companies to rethink work through a distributed lens. He doesn’t think that many businesses will simply go back to the old way of working. As a result, he wanted his company to rethink the office design with one that did away with cube farms with workers spread across a landscape of cubicles. Instead, he wants to create a new approach that takes into account that people don’t necessarily need a permanent space in the building.

“We’re soft launching or opening our Dropbox Studios [this] week in the U.S., including the one in San Francisco. And we took the opportunity as part of our focus to reimagine the office into a collaborative space that we call a studio,” Houston told me.

Houston says that the company really wanted to think about how to incorporate the best of working at home with the best of working at the office collaborating with colleagues. “We focused on having really great curated in-person experiences, some of which we coordinate at the company level and then some of which you can go into our studios, which have been refitted to support more collaboration,” he said.

Dropbox Studio coffee shop

Dropbox Studio coffee shop Image Credit: Dropbox

To that end, they have created a lot of soft spaces with a coffee shop to create a casual feel, conference rooms for teams to have what Houston called “on-site off-sites” and classrooms for organized group learning. The idea is to create purpose-built spaces for what would work best in an office environment and what people have been missing from in-person interactions since they were forced to work at home by the pandemic, while letting people accomplish more individual work at home.

The company is planning on dedicated studios in major cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo and Tel Aviv with smaller on demand spaces operated by partners like We Work in other locations.

Dropbox Studio Classroom

Dropbox Studio classroom space Image Credits: Dropbox

As Houston said when he appeared at TechCrunch Disrupt last year, his company sees this as an opportunity to be on the forefront of distributed work and act as an example and a guide to help other companies as they undertake similar journeys.

“When you think more broadly about the effects of the shift to distributed work, it will be felt well beyond when we go back to the office. So we’ve gone through a one-way door. This is maybe one of the biggest changes to knowledge work since that term was invented in 1959,” Houston said last year.

He recognizes that they have to evaluate how this is going to work and iterate on the design as needed, just as the company iterates on its products and they will be evaluating the new spaces and the impact on collaborative work and making adjustments when needed. To help others, Dropbox is releasing an open source project plan called the Virtual First Toolkit.

The company is going all in with this approach and will be subletting much of its existing office space as it moves to this new way of working and its space requirements change dramatically. It’s a bold step, but one that Houston believes his company is uniquely positioned to undertake, and he wants Dropbox to be an example to others on how to reinvent the way we work.

#cloud, #distributed-work, #drew-houston, #dropbox, #enterprise, #future-of-work, #tc

Internxt gets $1M to be ‘the Coinbase of decentralized storage’

Valencia-based startup Internxt has been quietly working on an ambitious plan to make decentralized cloud storage massively accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

It’s just bagged $1M in seed funding led by Angels Capital, a European VC fund owned by Juan Roig (aka Spain’s richest grocer and second wealthiest billionaire), and Miami-based The Venture City. It had previously raised around half a million dollars via a token sale to help fund early development.

The seed funds will be put towards its next phase of growth — its month-to-month growth rate is 30% and it tells us it’s confident it can at least sustain that — including planning a big boost to headcount so it can accelerate product development.

The Spanish startup has spent most of its short life to date developing a decentralized infrastructure that it argues is both inherently more secure and more private than mainstream cloud-based apps (such as those offered by tech giants like Google).

This is because files are not only encrypted in a way that means it cannot access your data but information is also stored in a highly decentralized way, split into tiny shards which are then distributed across multiple storage locations, with users of the network contributing storage space (and being recompensed for providing that capacity with — you guessed it — crypto).

“It’s a distributed architecture, we’ve got servers all over the world,” explains founder and CEO Fran Villalba Segarra. “We leverage and use the space provided by professionals and individuals. So they connect to our infrastructure and start hosting data shards and we pay them for the data they host — which is also more affordable because we are not going through the traditional route of just renting out a data center and paying them for a fixed amount of space.

“It’s like the Airbnb model or Uber model. We’ve kind of democratized storage.”

Internxt clocked up three years of R&D, beginning in 2017, before launching its first cloud-based apps: Drive (file storage), a year ago — and now Photos (a Google Photos rival).

So far it’s attracting around a million active users without paying any attention to marketing, per Villalba Segarra.

Internxt Mail is the next product in its pipeline — to compete with Gmail and also ProtonMail, a pro-privacy alternative to Google’s freemium webmail client (and for more on why it believes it can offer an edge there read on).

Internxt Send (file transfer) is another product billed as coming soon.

“We’re working on a G-Suite alternative to make sure we’re at the level of Google when it comes to competing with them,” he adds.

The issue Internxt’s architecture is designed to solve is that files which are stored in just one place are vulnerable to being accessed by others. Whether that’s the storage provider itself (who may, like Google, have a privacy-hostile business model based on mining users’ data); or hackers/third parties who manage to break the provider’s security — and can thus grab and/or otherwise interfere with your files.

Security risks when networks are compromised can include ransomeware attacks — which have been on an uptick in recent years — whereby attackers that have penetrated a network and gained access to stored files then hold the information to ransom by walling off the rightful owner’s access (typically by applying their own layer of encryption and demanding payment to unlock the data).

The core conviction driving Internxt’s decentralization push is that files sitting whole on a server or hard drive are sitting ducks.

Its answer to that problem is an alternative file storage infrastructure that combines zero access encryption and decentralization — meaning files are sharded, distributed and mirrored across multiple storage locations, making them highly resilient against storage failures or indeed hack attacks and snooping.

The approach ameliorates cloud service provider-based privacy concerns because Internxt itself cannot access user data.

To make money its business model is simple, tiered subscriptions: With (currently) one plan covering all its existing and planned services — based on how much data you need. (It is also freemium, with the first 10GB being free.)

Internxt is by no means the first to see key user value in rethinking core Internet architecture.

Scotland’s MaidSafe has been trying to build an alternative decentralized Internet for well over a decade at this point — only starting alpha testing its alt network (aka, the Safe Network) back in 2016, after ten years of testing. Its long term mission to reinvent the Internet continues.

Another (slightly less veteran) competitor in the decentralized cloud storage space is Storj, which is targeting enterprise users. There’s also Filecoin and Sia — both also part of the newer wave of blockchain startups that sprung up after Bitcoin sparked entrepreneurial interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain/decentralization.

How, then, is what Internxt’s doing different to these rival decentralized storage plays — all of which have been at this complex coal face for longer?

“We’re the only European based startup that’s doing this [except for MaidSafe, although it’s UK not EU based],” says Villalba Segarra, arguing that the European Union’s legal regime around data protection and privacy lends it an advantage vs U.S. competitors. “All the others, Storj, plus Sia, Filecoin… they’re all US-based companies as far as I’m aware.”

The other major differentiating factor he highlights is usability — arguing that the aforementioned competitors have been “built by developers for developers”. Whereas he says Internxt’s goal is be the equivalent of ‘Coinbase for decentralized storage’; aka, it wants to make a very complex technology highly accessible to non-technical Internet users.

“It’s a huge technology but in the blockchain space we see this all the time — where there’s huge potential but it’s very hard to use,” he tells TechCrunch. “That’s essentially what Coinbase is also trying to do — bringing blockchain to users, making it easier to use, easier to invest in cryptocurrency etc. So that’s what we’re trying to do at Internxt as well, bringing blockchain for cloud storage to the people. Making it easy to use with a very easy to use interface and so forth.

“It’s the only service in the distributed cloud space that’s actually usable — that’s kind of our main differentiating factor from Storj and all these other companies.”

“In terms of infrastructure it’s actually pretty similar to that of Sia or Storj,” he goes on — further likening Internxt’s ‘zero access’ encryption to Proton Drive’s architecture (aka, the file storage product from the makers of end-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail) — which also relies on client side encryption to give users a robust technical guarantee that the service provider can’t snoop on your stuff. (So you don’t have to just trust the company not to violate your privacy.)

But while it’s also touting zero access encryption (it seems to be using off-the-shelf AES-256 encryption; it says it uses “military grade”, client-side, open source encryption that’s been audited by Spain’s S2 Grupo, a major local cybersecurity firm), Internxt takes the further step of decentralizing the encrypted bits of data too. And that means it can tout added security benefits, per Villalba Segarra.

“On top of that what we do is we fragment data and then distribute it around the world. So essentially what servers host are encrypted data shards — which is much more secure because if a hacker was ever to access one of these servers what they would find is encrypted data shards which are essentially useless. Not even we can access that data.

“So that adds a huge layer of security against hackers or third party [access] in terms of data. And then on top of that we build very nice interfaces with which the user is very used to using — pretty much similar to those of Google… and that also makes us very different from Storj and Sia.”

Storage space for Internxt users’ files is provided by users who are incentivized to offer up their unused capacity to host data shards with micropayments of crypto for doing so. This means capacity could be coming from an individual user connecting to Internxt with just their laptop — or a datacenter company with large amounts of unused storage capacity. (And Villalba Segarra notes that it has a number of data center companies, such as OVH, are connected to its network.)

“We don’t have any direct contracts [for storage provision]… Anyone can connect to our network — so datacenters with available storage space, if they want to make some money on that they can connect to our network. We don’t pay them as much as we would pay them if we went to them through the traditional route,” he says, likening this portion of the approach to how Airbnb has both hosts and guests (or Uber needs drivers and riders).

“We are the platform that connects both parties but we don’t host any data ourselves.”

Internxt uses a reputation system to manage storage providers — to ensure network uptime and quality of service — and also applies blockchain ‘proof of work’ challenges to node operators to make sure they’re actually storing the data they claim.

“Because of the decentralized nature of our architecture we really need to make sure that it hits a certain level of reliability,” he says. “So for that we use blockchain technology… When you’re storing data in your own data center it’s easier in terms of making sure it’s reliable but when you’re storing it in a decentralized architecture it brings a lot of benefits — such as more privacy or it’s also more affordable — but the downside is you need to make sure that for example they’re actually storing data.”

Payments to storage capacity providers are also made via blockchain tech — which Villalba Segarra says is the only way to scale and automate so many micropayments to ~10,000 node operators all over the world.

Discussing the issue of energy costs — given that ‘proof of work’ blockchain-based technologies are facing increased scrutiny over the energy consumption involved in carrying out the calculations — he suggests that Internxt’s decentralized architecture can be more energy efficient than traditional data centers because data shards are more likely to be located nearer to the requesting user — shrinking the energy required to retrieve packets vs always having to do so from a few centralized global locations.

“What we’ve seen in terms of energy consumption is that we’re actually much more energy efficient than a traditional cloud storage service. Why? Think about it, we mirror files and we store them all over the world… It’s actually impossible to access a file from Dropbox that is sent out from [a specific location]. Essentially when you access Dropbox or Google Drive and you download a file they’re going to be sending it out from their data center in Texas or wherever. So there’s a huge data transfer energy consumption there — and people don’t think about it,” he argues.

“Data center energy consumption is already 2%* of the whole world’s energy consumption if I’m not mistaken. So being able to use latency and being able to send your files from [somewhere near the user] — which is also going to be faster, which is all factored into our reputation system — so our algorithms are going to be sending you the files that are closer to you so that we save a lot of energy from that. So if you multiple that by millions of users and millions of terabytes that actually saves a lot of energy consumption and also costs for us.”

What about latency from the user’s point of view? Is there a noticeable lag when they try to upload or retrieve and access files stored on Internxt vs — for example — Google Drive?

Villalba Segarra says being able to store file fragments closer to the user also helps compensate for any lag. But he also confirms there is a bit of a speed difference vs mainstream cloud storage services.

“In terms of upload and download speed we’re pretty close to Google Drive and Dropbox,” he suggests. “Again these companies have been around for over ten years and their services are very well optimized and they’ve got a traditional cloud architecture which is also relatively simpler, easier to build and they’ve got thousands of [employees] so their services are obviously much better than our service in terms of speed and all that. But we’re getting really close to them and we’re working really fast towards bringing our speed [to that level] and also as many features as possible to our architecture and to our services.”

“Essentially how we see it is we’re at the level of Proton Drive or Tresorit in terms of usability,” he adds on the latency point. “And we’re getting really close to Google Drive. But an average user shouldn’t really see much of a difference and, as I said, we’re literally working as hard as possible to make our services as useable as those of Google. But we’re ages ahead of Storj, Sia, MaidSafe and so forth — that’s for sure.”

Internxt is doing all this complex networking with a team of just 20 people currently. But with the new seed funding tucked in its back pocket the plan now is to ramp up hiring over the next few months — so that it can accelerate product development, sustain its growth and keep pushing its competitive edge.

“By the time we do a Series A we should be around 100 people at Internxt,” says Villalba Segarra. “We are already preparing our Series A. We just closed our seed round but because of how fast we’re growing we are already being reached out to by a few other lead VC funds from the US and London.

“It will be a pretty big Series A. Potentially the biggest in Spain… We plan on growing until the Series A at at least a 30% month-to-month rate which is what we’ve been growing up until now.”

He also tells TechCrunch that the intention for the Series A is to do the funding at a $50M valuation.

“We were planning on doing it a year from now because we literally just closed our [seed] round but because of how many VCs are reaching out to us we may actually do it by the end of this year,” he says, adding: “But timeframe isn’t an issue for us. What matters most is being able to reach that minimum valuation.”

*Per the IEA, data centres and data transmission networks each accounted for around 1% of global electricity use in 2019

#angels-capital, #blockchain, #cloud-computing, #cloud-storage, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #dropbox, #encryption, #energy-consumption, #europe, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #gmail, #internxt, #privacy, #recent-funding, #spain, #startups, #storage, #tc, #the-venture-city, #valencia

City pays $350,000 after suing “hackers” for opening Dropbox link it sent them

City pays $350,000 after suing “hackers” for opening Dropbox link it sent them

Enlarge (credit: Geographer / Wikimedia Commons)

The city of Fullerton, California, has agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit it brought against two bloggers it accused of hacking the city’s Dropbox account.

Joshua Ferguson and David Curlee frequently made public record requests in the course of covering city government for a local blog, Friends for Fullerton’s Future. The city used Dropbox to fulfill large file requests, and in response to a June 6, 2019, request for records related to police misconduct, Ferguson and Curlee were sent a link to a Dropbox folder containing a password-protected zip file. 

But a city employee also sent them a link to a more general “Outbox” shared folder that contained potential records request documents that had not yet been reviewed by the city attorney. The folder wasn’t password protected or access restricted. At the time, there were 19 zip files in the outbox, five of which were not password protected. 

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#dropbox, #freedom-of-speech, #freedom-of-the-press, #policy, #public-records

Notarize raises $130M, tripling valuation on the back of 600% YoY revenue growth

When the world shifted toward virtual one year ago, one service in particular saw heated demand: digital notary services.

The ability to get a document notarized without leaving one’s home suddenly became more of a necessity than a luxury. Pat Kinsel, founder and CEO of Boston-based Notarize, worked to get appropriate legislation passed across the country to make it possible for more people in more states to use remote online notarization (RON) services. 

That hard work has paid off. Today, Notarize has announced $130 million in Series D funding led by fintech-focused VC firm Canapi Ventures after experiencing 600% year over year revenue growth. The round values Notarize at $760 million, which is triple its valuation at the time of its $35 million Series C in March of 2020. This latest round is larger than the sum of all of the company’s previous rounds to date, and brings Notarize’s total raised to $213 million since its 2015 inception.

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including Alphabet’s independent growth fund CapitalG, Citi Ventures, Wells Fargo, True Bridge Capital Partners and existing backers Camber Creek, Ludlow Ventures, NAR’s Second Century Ventures, and Fifth Wall Ventures.

Notarize insists that it “isn’t just a notary company.” Rather, Canapi Ventures Partner Neil Underwood described it as the ‘last mile’ of businesses (such as iBuyers, for example). 

The company has also evolved to “also bring trust and identity verification” into those businesses’ processes.

Over the past year, Notarize has seen a massive increase in transactions and inked new partnerships with companies such as Adobe, Dropbox, Stripe and Zillow Group, among others. It’s seen big spikes in demand from the real estate, financial services, retail and automotive sectors.

“In 2020, the world rushed to digitize. Online commerce ballooned, and businesses in almost every industry needed to transition to digital basically overnight so they could continue uninterrupted,” Kinsel said. “Notarize was there to help them safely close these deals with trust and convenience.”  

The company plans to use its new capital to expand its platform and product and scale “to serve enterprises of all sizes.” It also plans to double down on hiring in the next year.

“Notarize is disrupting outdated business models and technologies, and there’s massive potential, particularly in the financial services space, as more companies will need to offer secure digital alternatives to in-person transactions,” Canapi’s Underwood said.

Notarize’s success comes after a difficult 2019, when the company saw “critical financing” fall through and had to lay off staff, according to Kinsel. Talk about a turnaround story.

#boston, #camber-creek, #canapi-ventures, #capitalg, #ceo, #citi-ventures, #dropbox, #fifth-wall, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #law, #ludlow-ventures, #notarize, #online-commerce, #pat-kinsel, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #stripe, #venture-capital, #wells-fargo, #zillow

The Roblox final fantasy

Hello friends, and welcome to Week in Review.

Last week, I talked a bit about NFTs and their impact on artists. If you’re inundated with NFT talk just take one quick look at this story I wrote this week about the $69 million sale of Beeple’s photo collage. This hype cycle is probably all the result of crypto folks talking each other up and buying each other’s stuff, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be lasting impacts. That said, I would imagine we’re pretty close to the peak of this wave, with a larger one down the road after things cool off a bit. I’ve been wrong before though…

This week, I’m interested in a quick look at what your kids have been talking about all these years. Yes, Roblox.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


David Baszucki, founder and CEO of Roblox - Roblox Developer Conference 2019

(Photo by Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Roblox)

The big thing

Roblox went public on the New York Stock Exchange this week, scoring a $38 billion market cap after its first couple days of trading.

Investors rallied around the idea that Roblox is one of the most valuable gaming companies in existence. More than Unity, Zynga, Take-Two, even gaming giant Electronic Arts. It’s still got a ways to go to take down Microsoft, Sony or Apple though… The now-public company is so freaking huge because investors believe the company has tapped into something that none of the others have, a true interconnected creative marketplace where gamers can evolve alongside an evolving library of experiences that all share the same DNA (and in-game currency).

The gaming industry has entered a very democratic stride as cross-play tears down some of the walls of gaming’s platform dynamics. Each hardware platform that operates an app store of their own still has the keys to a kingdom, but it’s a shifting world with uncertainty ahead. While massive publishers have tapped cloud gaming as the trend that will string their blockbuster franchises together, they all wish they were in Roblox’s position. The gaming industry has seen plenty of Goliath’s in its day, but for every major MMO to strike it rich, it’s still just another winner in a field of disparate hits with no connective tissue.

Roblox is different, and while many of us still have the aged vision of the image above: a bunch of rudimentary Minecraft/Playmobile-looking mini-games, Roblox’s game creation tools are advancing quickly and developers are building photorealistic games that are wider in ambition and scope than before. As the company levels-up the age range it appeals to — both by holding its grasp on aging gamers on its platform and using souped-up titles to appeal to a new-generation — there’s a wholly unique platform opportunity here: the chance to have the longevity of an app store but with the social base layer that today’s cacophony of titles have never shared.

Whether or not Roblox is the “metaverse” that folks in the gaming world have been hyping, it certainly looks more like it than any other modern gaming company does.


SHENYANG, CHINA – MARCH 08: Customers try out iPhone 12 smartphones at an Apple store on March 8, 2021 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Other things

Apple releases some important security patches
It was honestly a pretty low-key week of tech news, I’ll admit, but folks in the security world might not totally buy that characterization. This week, Apple released some critical updates for its devices, fixing a Safari vulnerability that could allow attackers to run malicious code on a user’s unpatched devices. Update your stuff, y’all.

TikTok gets proactive on online bullying
New social media platforms have had the benefit of seeing the easy L’s that Facebook teed itself up for. For TikTok, its China connection means that there’s less room for error when it comes to easily avoidable losses. The team announced some new anti-bullying features aimed at cutting down on toxicity in comment feeds.

Dropbox buys DocSend
Cloud storage giants are probably in need of a little reinvention, the enterprise software boom of the pandemic has seemed to create mind-blowing amounts of value for every SaaS company except these players. This week, Dropbox made a relatively big bet on document sharing startup DocSend. It’s seemingly a pretty natural fit for them, but can they turn in into a bigger opportunity?

Epic Games buys photogrammetry studio
As graphics cards and consoles have hit new levels of power, games have had to satisfy desired for more details and complexity. It takes a wild amount of time to create 3D assets with that complexity so plenty of game developers have leaned on photogrammetry which turns a series of photos or scans of a real world object or environment into a 3D model. This week, Epic Games bought one of the better known software makers in this space, called Capturing Reality, with the aim of integrating the tech into future versions of their game engine.

Twitter Spaces launches publicly next month
I’ve spent some more time with Twitter Spaces this week and am growing convinced that it has a substantial chance to kneecap Clubhouse’s growth. Twitter is notoriously slow to roll out products, but it seems they’ve been hitting the gas on Spaces, announcing this week that it will be available widely by next month.

Seth Rogen starts a weed company
There’s a lot of money in startups, there’s really never been a better time to get capital for a project… if you know the right people and have the right kind of expertise. Seth Rogen and weed are a pretty solid mental combo and him starting a weed company shouldn’t be a big shock.


A Coupang Corp. delivery truck drives past a company's fulfillment center in Bucheon, South Korea, on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. and that could raise billions of dollars to battle rivals and kick off a record year for IPOs in the Asian country. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Coupang follows Roblox to a strong first day of trading
“Another day brings another public debut of a multibillion-dollar company that performed well out of the gate.This time it’s Coupang, whose shares are currently up just over 46% to more than $51 after pricing at $35, $1 above the South Korean e-commerce giant’s IPO price range. Raising one’s range and then pricing above it only to see the public markets take the new equity higher is somewhat par for the course when it comes to the most successful recent debuts, to which we can add Coupang.” More

How nontechnical talent can break into deep tech
“Startup hiring processes can be opaque, and breaking into the deep tech world as a nontechnical person seems daunting. As someone with no initial research background wanting to work in biotech, I felt this challenge personally. In the past year, I landed several opportunities working for and with deep tech companies. More

Does your VC have an investment thesis or a hypothesis?
“Venture capitalists love to talk investment theses: on Twitter, Medium, Clubhouse, at conferences. And yet, when you take a closer look, theses are often meaningless and/or misleading…” More


Once more, if you liked reading this, you can get it in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#apple, #apple-inc, #china, #cloud-gaming, #computing, #coupang, #docsend, #dropbox, #electronic-arts, #epic-games, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #gamer, #getty, #getty-images, #iphone, #microsoft, #online-games, #roblox, #smartphones, #software, #sony, #tc, #technology, #twitter, #week-in-review, #zynga

Can you beat Google with Google’s brains?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. Like every week, we had to leave a lot of great stuff on the cutting-room floor. But, we did get to touch on a bunch of news that we feel really matters.

Also we do wind up talking about a few Extra Crunch pieces, which is where our deeper analysis on news items lives. If the paywall is a bother, you can get access while saving 50% with the code “EQUITY.”

Here’s what we got into:

  • Crypto-art and the NFT boom continue. Check out what Beeple just did. Danny has an opinion on the matter.
  • The Roblox direct-listing does very little actually solve the IPO pricing issue. That said, well done Bloxburg.
  • We talked about the Coursera S-1, which gave us the first financial peek into an education company revitalized by the pandemic.
  • The numbers needed context, so our follow up coverage gives readers 5 takeaways from the Coursera IPO.
  • Language learning has a market, and it’s big. We talked about Preply’s $35 million raise and why tutoring marketplaces make sense.
  • Dropbox is buying DocSend, which makes pretty good sense. Even if the exit price won’t matter much for bigger funds. We’re still witnessing Dropbox and Box add more features to their product via acquisitions. Let’s see how it impacts their revenue growth.
  • Zapier buys Makerpad. We struggled to pronounce Zapier, but did have some notes on the deal and what it might mean for the no-code space.
  • Sticking the acquisition theme, PayPal bought Curv. If you were looking for more evidence that big companies are taking crypto seriously, well, here it is.
  • And to close we nerded out about Neeva. Can a Google-competitor take on Google if it was founded by ex-Googlers?

The show is back Monday morning. Stay cool!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#beeple, #coupang, #coursera, #crypto, #curv, #docsend, #dropbox, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #google, #makerpad, #neeva, #nft, #paypal, #preply, #roblox, #startups, #tc, #zapier

Daily Crunch: Dropbox acquires DocSend for $165M

Dropbox acquires a secure document-sharing startup, Sonos announces a new speaker and Google makes hotel listings free. This is your Daily Crunch for March 9, 2021.

The big story: Dropbox acquires DocSend for $165M

Dropbox already acquired electronic signature company HelloSign in 2019. By acquiring DocSend — which allows customers to share and track documents using a secure link — it’s giving its platform an end-to-end, secure document-sharing workflow.

“We’re announcing that we’re acquiring DocSend to help us deliver an even broader set of tools for remote work, and DocSend helps customers securely manage and share their business-critical documents, backed by powerful engagement analytics,” said Dropbox CEO Drew Houston.

One thing the two companies have in common: Both of them launched, years apart, at TechCrunch events.

The tech giants

Sonos goes full portable Bluetooth speaker with the $169 Roam — The smaller, lighter, more ruggedized and waterproof design puts it more in line with popular offerings from companies like JBL.

After similar moves for Shopping and Flights, Google makes hotel listings free — This change should give users a more comprehensive look into hotel room availability.

French startup lobby targets Apple with ‘privacy hypocrisy’ complaint — Apple is facing another privacy complaint in Europe.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Wefarm adds $11M to expand its network for independent farmers, now at 2.5M users — The startup has built a social networking platform to help independent farmers meet each other, exchange ideas and sell or trade equipment and supplies.

Entertainment payroll startup Wrapbook raises $27M round led by a16z — The money comes from noteworthy names in both the tech and entertainment worlds.

Eye surgery robotics startup ForSight raises $10M — ForSight looks to bring its offerings to international markets, pending the sorts of regulatory approvals that go into launching a robotic surgery platform.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Four ways startups will drive GPT-3 adoption in 2021 — The introduction of GPT-3 in 2020 was a tipping point for artificial intelligence.

Global-e files to go public as e-commerce startups enjoy a renaissance — The company’s business exploded in 2020.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Memes for sale — We talk to Chris Torres, the Nyan Cat creator who has organized an informal collection of meme originators into a two-week-long auction of their works.

Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton discusses how to find the next unicorn — Hamilton joined us at TC: Sessions Justice to chat about how she vets founders, the changing role of venture capital and how raising money from the community versus institutional LPs can impact Backstage strategy.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#docsend, #dropbox, #tc

Dropbox to acquire secure document sharing startup DocSend for $165M

Dropbox announced today that it plans to acquire DocSend for $165 million The company helps customers share and track documents by sending a secure link instead of an attachment.

“We’re announcing that we’re acquiring DocSend to help us deliver an even broader set of tools for remote work, and DocSend helps customers securely manage and share their business critical documents, backed by powerful engagement analytics,” Houston told me.

When combined with the electronic signature capability of HelloSign, which Dropbox acquired in 2019, the acquisition gives the company an end-to-end document sharing workflow it had been missing. “Dropbox, DocSend and HelloSign will be able to offer a full suite of self-serve products to help our millions of customers manage the entire critical document workflows and give more control over all aspects of that,” Houston explained.

Houston and DocSend co-founder and CEO Russ Heddleston have known each for other years, and have an established relationship. In fact, Heddleston worked for Dropbox as a summer in intern in 2010. He even ran the idea for the company by Houston prior to launching in 2013, who gave it his seal of approval, and the two companies have been partners for some time.

“We’ve just been following the thread of external sending, which has just kind of evolved and opened up into all these different workflows. And it’s just really interesting that by just being laser focused on that we’ve been able to create a really differentiated product that users love a ton,” Heddleston said.

Those workflows include creative, sales, client services or startups using DocSend to deliver proposals or pitch decks and track engagement. In fact, among the earliest use cases for the company was helping startups track engagement with their pitch decks at VC firms.

The company raised a modest amount of the money along the way, just $15.3 million, according to Crunchbase, but Heddleston says that he wanted to build a company that was self-sufficient and raising more VC dollars was never a priority or necessity. “We had [VCs] chase us to give us more money all the time, and what we would tell our employees is that we don’t keep count based on money raised or headcount. It’s just about building a great company,” he said.

That builder’s attitude was one of the things that attracted Houston to the company. “We’re big believers in the model of product growth and capital efficiency, and building really intuitive products that are viral, and that’s a lot of what what attracted us to DocSend,” Houston said. While DocSend has 17,000 customers, Houston says the acquisition gives the company the opportunity to get in front of a much larger customer base as part of Dropbox.

It’s worth noting that Box offers a similar secure document sharing capability enabling users to share a link instead of using an attachment. It recently bought e-signature startup SignRequest for $55 million with an eye toward building more complex document workflows similar to what Dropbox now has with HelloSign and DocSend. PandaDoc is another competitor in this space.

Both Dropbox and SendDoc participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield with Houston debuting Dropbox in 2008 at the TechCrunch 50, the original name of the event. Meanwhile, DocSend participated in 2014 at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York City.

DocSend’s approximately 50 employees will be joining Dropbox when the deal closes, which should happen soon, subject to standard regulatory oversight.

#cloud, #docsend, #drew-houston, #dropbox, #enterprise, #exit, #fundings-exits, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #saas, #secure-file-sharing, #startups, #tc

Fintech startup Vise brings on Andrew Fong (formerly Dropbox) as CTO

Vise, a fintech firm that focuses on helping financial advisors rather than automating them out of existence, has today announced that its bringing on Andrew Fong as its Chief Technology Officer.

Fong hails from Dropbox, where he served as VP of Infrastructure Engineering. He actually started out as a Site Reliability Engineer at Dropbox back in 2012 climbing the ranks to Engineering Director, and then Senior Director of Engineering – Head of Infrastructure before becoming to vice president.

Before Dropbox, Fong was an engineer at YouTube and Aol.

Vise brought on Fong to scale up its technical team following its most recent fundraise, a $45 million in Series B led by Sequoia Capital. In total, Vise has raised $63 million since launching on the TC Disrupt stage in 2019.

You can check out the video of their demo here.

Vise uses AI to support financial advisors in their relationships with clients, giving them the ability to justify and explain (with data) the reason for making this or that investment, as well as the ability to customize a portfolio quickly.

Top of mind for Fong is scaling up the engineering department from 20 people to 75 by the end of the year, and Fong explained that diversity, equity and inclusion must be front and center in that endeavor.

“Vise is in the early stages of building out its engineering organization,” Fong told TechCrunch. “It’s imperative that we weave in DEI as a first principle to our recruiting at this stage and ensure we are maturing our processes with DEI in mind.”

At Dropbox, Fong started out as a team leader building a team of 40 and by the time he left, led a team of more than 250 people. He explained that he learned a lot during that 8+ year period, and made a lot of mistakes, and was eager to see how that knowledge could be reapplied at a different firm.

“What would it be like to do this again with the knowledge I have now?” asked Fong. “What things would I do differently? How would I improve upon it? How can I actually take that knowledge and leverage it in a way that helps others in the industry or my peers at Vise? Can I provide a perspective that they don’t necessarily have today?”

Fong was first connected with Vise while he was still at Dropbox. He spoke to Vise cofounder Runik Mehrotra on an explanatory call, and remembers feeling like no matter where his path took him, he wanted to stay connected to Mehrotra and Vise.

“This is somebody that just has something about him,” he said of Mehrotra. “There’s just like an ‘it’ factor that made me feel like I wanted to work with him.”

Fong says that recruiting during COVID, with extremely limited face-to-face contact, is one of the biggest challenges ahead for both himself and Vise in general.

#dropbox, #fintech, #tc

Roboflow raises $2.1M for its end-to-end computer vision platform

Roboflow, a startup that aims to simplify the process of building computer vision models, today announced that it has raised a $2.1 million seed round co-led by Lachy Groom and Craft Ventures. Additional investors include Segment co-founder Calvin French-Owen, Lob CEO Leore Avidar, Firebase co-founder James Tamplin and early Dropbox engineer Aston Motes, among others. The company is a graduate of this year’s Y Combinator summer class.

Co-founded by Joseph Nelson (CEO) and Brad Dwyer (CTO), Roboflow is the result of the team members’ previous work on AR and AI apps, including Magic Sudoku from 2017. After respectively exiting their last companies, the two co-founders teamed up again to launch a new AR project, this time with a focus on board games. In 2019, the team actually participated in the TC Disrupt hackathon to add chess support to that app — but in the process, the team also realized that it was spending a lot of time trying to solve the same problems that everybody else in the computer vision field was facing.

Image Credits: Roboflow

“In building both those [AR] products, we realized most of our time wasn’t spent on the board game part of it, it was spent on the image management, the annotation management, the understanding of ‘do we have enough images of white queens, for example? Do we have enough images from this angle or this angle? Are the rooms brighter or darker?’ This data mining of understanding in visual imagery is really underdeveloped. We had built a bunch of — at the time — internal tooling to make this easier for us,” Nelson explained. “And in the process of building this company, of trying to make software features for real-world objects, realize that developers didn’t need inspiration. They needed tooling.”

So shortly after participating in the hackathon, the founders started putting together the first version of Roboflow and launched the first version a year ago in January 2020. And while the service started out as a platform for managing large image data sets, it has since grown to become an end-to-end solution for handling image management, analysis, pre-processing and augmentation, up to building the image recognition models and putting them into production. As Nelson noted, while the team didn’t set out to build an end-to-end solution, its users kept pushing the team to add more features.

Image Credits: Roboflow

So far, about 20,000 developers have used the service, with use cases ranging from accelerating cancer research to smart city applications. The thesis here, Nelson said, is that computer vision is going to be useful for every single industry. But not every company has the in-house expertise to set up the infrastructure for building models and putting it into production, so Roboflow aims to provide an easy to use platform for this that individual developers and (over time) large enterprise teams can use to quickly iterate on their ideas.

Roboflow plans to use the new funding to expand its team, which currently consists of five members, both on the engineering and go-to-market side.

The Roboflow racoon.

The Roboflow racoon. Image Credits: Roboflow

“As small cameras become cheaper and cheaper, we’re starting to see an explosion of video and image data everywhere,” Segment co-founder and Roboflow investor French-Owen noted. “Historically, it’s been hard for anyone but the biggest tech companies to harness this data, and actually turn it into a valuable product. Roboflow is building the pipelines for the rest of us. They’re helping engineers take the data that tells a thousand words, and giving them the power to turn that data into recommendations and insights.”

#arkansas, #cloud-computing, #computing, #craft-ventures, #data-mining, #dropbox, #firebase, #france, #hackathon, #lachy-groom, #lob, #recent-funding, #roboflow, #startups, #tc, #technology, #y-combinator

Dropbox shifts business product focus to remote work with Spaces update

In a September interview at TechCrunch Disrupt, Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston talked about how the pandemic had forced the company to rethink what work means, and how his company is shifting with the new requirements of a work-from-home world. Today, the company announced broad changes to Dropbox Spaces, the product introduced last year, to make it a collaboration and project management tool designed with these new requirements in mind.

Dropbox president Timothy Young says that the company has always been about making it easy to access files wherever you happen to be and whatever device you happen to be on, whether that was in a consumer or business context. As the company has built out its business products over the last several years, that involved sharing content internally or externally. Today’s announcement is about helping teams plan and execute around the content you create with a strong project focus.

“Now what we’re basically trying to do is really help distributed teams stay organized, collaborate together and keep moving along, but also do so in a really secure way and support IT, administrators and companies with some features around that as well, while staying true to Dropbox principles,” Young said.

This involves updating Spaces to be a full-fledged project management tool designed with a distributed workforce in mind. Spaces connects to other tools like your calendar, people directory, project management software — and of course files. You can create a project, add people and files, then set up a timeline and assign and track tasks, In addition, you can access meetings directly from Spaces and communicate with team members, who can be inside or outside the company.

Houston suggested a product like this could be coming in his September interview when he said:

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

Along these same lines, Young says the company itself plans to continue to be a remote first company even after the pandemic ends, and will continue to build tools to make it easier to collaborate and share information with that personal experience in mind.

Today’s announcement is a step in that direction. Dropbox Spaces has been in private beta and should be available at the beginning of next year.

#cloud, #collaboration, #drew-houston, #dropbox, #enterprise, #project-management, #remote-work, #storage, #tc

Python creator Guido van Rossum joins Microsoft

Guido van Rossum, the creator of the Python programming language, today announced that he has unretired and joined Microsoft’s Developer Division.

Van Rossum, who was last employed by Dropbox, retired last October after six and a half years at the company. Clearly, that retirement wasn’t meant to last. At Microsoft, van Rossum says, he’ll work to “make using Python better for sure (and not just on Windows).”

A Microsoft spokesperson told us that the company also doesn’t have any additional details to share but confirmed that van Rossum has indeed joined Microsoft. “We’re excited to have him as part of the Developer Division. Microsoft is committed to contributing to and growing with the Python community, and Guido’s on-boarding is a reflection of that commitment,” the spokesperson said.

The Dutch programmer started working on what would become Python back in 1989. He continued to actively work on the language during his time at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in the mid-90s and at various companies afterward, including as Director of PythonLabs at BeOpen and Zope and at Elemental Security. Before going to Dropbox, he worked for Google from 2005 to 2012. There, he developed the internal code review tool Mondrian and worked on App Engine.

Today, Python is among the most popular programming languages and the de facto standard for AI researchers, for example.

Only a few years ago, van Rossum joining Microsoft would’ve been unthinkable, given the company’s infamous approach to open source. That has clearly changed now and today’s Microsoft is one of the most active corporate open-source contributors among its peers — and now the owner of GitHub . It’s not clear what exactly van Rossum will do at Microsoft, but he notes that there’s “too many options to say” and that “there’s lots of open source here.”

#computing, #dropbox, #github, #google, #google-app-engine, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #programmer, #programming-languages, #python, #tc

Former Dropbox CFO Ajay Vashee is joining the powerhouse venture firm IVP in January

Ajay Vashee — who spent the last eight years at Dropbox, rising from the head of finance to CFO over his tenure and helping to take the company public in 2018 — is joining the powerhouse venture firm IVP in January.

It’s the realization of plans established long ago by Vashee, who fell in love with venture years ago and has always known he wanted to return to it, though he wasn’t sure when or where that night happen. Indeed, he says that when he announced that he was leaving Dropbox in early August to join the world of venture capital, he didn’t know where he would land. He instead “wanted my intentions out there.”

It was an effective tactic, from the sounds of things. Vashee hints that he talked with numerous firms, deciding that later-stage IVP was the best fit for a variety of reasons, from the team fit to the experience he’d gained at Dropbox, helping to navigate the company through multiple stages of growth, including both as a private and then a public company.

As an added bonus, he isn’t starting until January, giving him a little extra time to spend with his extended family in the Bay Area and, most importantly, with his young daughters, ages 4 and 1.

Vashee, who attended to Columbia and headed to Morgan Stanley as an analyst right out of college, first fell in love with venture during his second job, which was a senior associate with NEA where he spent four years. “I absolutely loved investing and wasn’t planning to leave the join a company, but the opportunity to join Dropbox came up, and, knowing that I ultimately wanted to build a career as an investor, it if felt like something I couldn’t pass up.”

Though a generalist at NEA, Vashee says he will be focused on enterprise software — including companies focused on collaboration and finance automation — at IVP, whose team he got to know at Dropbox after they led the company’s Series B round. (“They helped us build our board, they were a sounding board for so many strategic decisions, and always hustled for us.”)

Vashee has already made some personal bets in the area, including investing in startups Metronome, Mosaic, and Layer.

He’ll suggests that he’ll be spending a lot more time thinking about the going-public process, now that many choice in addition to traditional IPOs are on the table. Interestingly, he says that if he were taking Dropbox public today, an option like a direct listing is something he’d want to evaluate.

Unsurprisingly, he says a handful of IVP partners serve on the boards of companies that are right now evaluating tie-ups with special purpose acquisition companies or SPACs, too.

In either case, he stresses that companies eyeing the public market need to be prepared, noting that the “operational readiness and rigor” that was instilled at Dropbox has proved “invaluable” to the company. Adds Vashee, “I don’t think the IPO process is broken, but has room for improvement.”

IVP announced its last fund — its biggest to date — in September 2017, closing at the time on $1.5 billion in capital. Given that three years have elapsed and that fund sizes have only continued to balloon, the firm is poised to announce an even bigger vehicle any day now.

One of the firm’s highest-profile investors, Todd Chaffee, has already said that he won’t be actively investing that new fund, following a 20-year run.

#dropbox, #hiring, #ivp, #talent, #tc, #venture-capital

The Freewrite Traveler is an outstanding, but expensive, dedicated portable writing laptop

As a hardware startup, Astrohaus stands apart because of its unique offerings focused specifically on writers and writing. Its debut product, the Freewrite, looked like an old-school travel typewriter with an e-ink screen. Now, it’s back with a new device it’s been working on for the past couple of years: The Freewrite Traveler. This more portable e-ink typewriter has a clamshell design and isn’t much larger than a Nintendo Switch, making it a flexible, go-anwyhere writing companion.

The basics

Astrohaus began teasing the Traveler a few years ago, before eventually launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in November 2018 to get it made. The crowdfunding was very successful, raising over $600,000 on the platform before the campaign ended, and then another $200,000+ in pre-orders after that. Like many hardware efforts, it encountered a few delays relative to its original delivery timeline, but now the Freewrite Traveler is shipping out to pre-order customers.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of specs, it has up to four weeks of battery life with regular usage, and weighs under two pounds, with a folding design that’s roughly half the surface area of most laptops. The screen on the top half is an e-ink display, and there’s a sub-screen for providing info like network status. The bottom half houses the keyboard, which boasts over 2mm of travel for a great keypress feel.

The case is plastic, as are most of the components, and the exterior is a glossy black. The Traveler connects via wifi, like the original Freewrite, and allows you to register an account to sync to up to three separate folders of documents. When out of wifi range, your work is stored locally, and it can sync to the cloud service of your choice via Freewrite’s integrations whenever you’re connected.

Design and features

The Traveler’s design is all about portability and convenience, while retaining the core usability features that make the original Freewrite such an ideal device for focused writing. The clamshell design is intentionally large enough to fit that full-sized keyboard comfortably, but keeps the screen small like with the original, which makes it more portable and ensures that distractions are kept to a minimum – aided by the fact that all you can do on it is type text, since there are no apps, browser or other functions.

Astrohaus has stayed very close to their original vision for the Traveler, with some minor tweaks including the hinge design. The end result is a light and durable-feeling portable digital typewriter, with a keyboard that feels excellent to type on – better than any laptop in my experience. The keyboard is really the star of the show here, since this is a purpose-built device created for typing. The travel feels ample, especially for a notebook-style device, and the raised, rounded keycap wells make it easy to touch type comfortably all day if you want.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The display, while small, provides excellent legibility and contrast, though it’s worth noting that you’ll have to supply your own light source, because as with the original Freewrite, there’s no backlight or frontlight built in, and e-ink doesn’t provide its own light like LED.

E-ink is incredibly power efficient, however, which is why you’ll get so much useful life out of the Traveler. In my testing, it’s been operating on its original charge for nearly two weeks now, which is in line with the Astrohaus estimates.

The Traveler’s case features a piano black glossy exterior, which looks great, but quickly picks up fingerprints. And existing Freewrite users might notice that the display has a slightly glossy sheen as well, where the original was fully matte. That’s because of a thin piece of optically transparent plastic that goes across the entire width of the clamshell to protect the e-ink display against the keyboard, according to Astrohaus. To me, it hasn’t been an issue in terms of usability or quality, just something to note in terms of differences.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Astrohaus has created a design that stands out, regardless of what you think of the piano black finish. The contrast of the black with the white interior gives it a unique, quirky and attractive design that helps ensure you’ll never confuse the Traveler with any other gadget. And the materials keep it lightweight and durable for easily taking it with you anywhere you might want to go.

The Traveler’s hinge allows it it to open up to roughly 135 degrees, which is a good position for laptop typing. It can also be positioned at any angle less than that for when you have it elevated at a table or desk.

Bottom line

The Freewrite Traveler is a unique device, with a special appeal for people who are hyper-focused on a writing tool that offers all the benefits of cloud-connectivity with none of the downsides of a multipurpose tool like a laptop or computer. It can sync to Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive so that you can easily create a cross-device workflow for finishing up manuscripts and drafts, but on its own, the Traveler will ensure you remain focused on the task at hand – and enjoy yourself while doing so.

A portable, digital writing device like this one isn’t unique in the world – many distraction-free writing enthusiasts use the Pomera line of products from Japan for this purpose. But Astrohaus is unique in providing hardware tailor-made for North American and European markets, and they’ve done an amazing job at delivering on the potential of this device even in a field of relatively few competitors.

The Traveler is fairly expensive at $599, but there’s truly nothing else like it, if what you want is a laser-focused writing device that combines portability with great ergonomics, long-lasting battery and cloud storage convenience.

#articles, #astrohaus, #computing, #dropbox, #e-ink, #e-book, #evernote, #freewrite, #gadgets, #google, #hardware, #hardware-startup, #indiegogo, #industrial-design, #japan, #laptop, #laser, #microsoft-surface, #nintendo, #reviews, #tc, #typewriter, #writing

Dropbox begins shift to high efficiency Western Digital Shingled Magnetic Recording disks

Last year, Dropbox talked about making a shift to Shingled Magnetic Recording or SMR disks for short because of the efficiency they can give a high volume storage platform like theirs. Today, Western Digital announced that Dropbox was one of the first companies to qualify their Ultrastar® DC HC650 20TB, host-managed SMR hard disks.

Dropbox’s modern infrastructure story goes back to 2017 when it decided to shift most of its business from being hosted on AWS to building their own infrastructure. As they moved through the process of making that transition in the following years, they were looking for new storage technology ideas to help drive down the cost of running their own massive storage system.

As principal engineer James Cowling told TechCrunch last year, one of the ideas that emerged was using SMR:

What emerged was SMR, which has high storage density and a lower price point. Moving to SMR gave Dropbox the ability to do more with less, increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs — an essential step for a company trying to do this on its own. “It required expertise obviously, but it was also exciting to bring a lot of efficiencies in terms of cost and storage efficiency, while pulling down boundaries between software and hardware,” Cowling said.

As it turns out, Dropbox VP of engineering Andrew Fong says that the company has been working with Western Digital for a number of years and the new SMR technology is the latest step in that partnership.

Western Digital says that these drives deliver this cost savings through increased storage density and lower power requirements. “When considering exabyte-scale needs, and associated capital and operating cost of the data center, the long-term value in terms of lower cost-per-TB, higher density, low power and high reliability can help benefit the bottom line,” the company said in a statement.

Time will tell if these disks deliver as promised, but they certainly show a lot of potential for a high volume user like Dropbox.

#cloud, #dropbox, #enterprise, #hardware, #smr-hard-drives, #storage, #tc, #western-digital

The highest valued company in Bessemer’s annual cloud report has defied convention by staying private

This year’s Bessemer Venture Partners’ annual Cloud 100 Benchmark report was published recently and my colleague Alex Wilhelm looked at some broad trends in the report, but digging into the data, I decided to concentrate on the Top 10 companies by valuation. I found that the top company has defied convention for a couple of reasons.

Bessemer looks at private companies. Once they go public, they lose interest, and that’s why certain startups go in and out of this list each year. As an example, Dropbox was the most highly valued company by far with a valuation in the $10 billion range for 2016 and 2017, the earliest data in the report. It went public in 2018 and therefore disappeared.

While that $10 billion benchmark remains a fairly good measure of a solidly valued cloud company, one company in particular blew away the field in terms of valuation, an outlier so huge, its value dwarfs even the mighty Snowflake, which was valued at over $12 billion before it went public earlier this month.

That company is Stripe, which has an other worldly valuation of $36 billion. Stripe began its ascent to the top of the charts in 2016 and 2017 when it sat behind Dropbox with a $6 billion valuation in 2016 and around $8 billion in 2017. By the time Dropbox left the chart in 2018, Stripe would have likely blown past it when its valuation soared to $20 billion. It zipped up to around $23 billion last year before taking another enormous leap to $36 billion this year.

Stripe remains an outlier not only for its enormous valuation, but also the fact that it hasn’t gone public yet. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden pointed out in article earlier this year, the company has remained quiet about its intentions, although there has been some speculation lately that an IPO could be coming.

What Stripe has done to earn that crazy valuation is to be the cloud payment API of choice for some of the largest companies on the Internet. Consider that Stripe’s customers include Amazon, Salesforce, Google and Shopify and it’s not hard to see why this company is valued as highly as it is.

Stripe came up with the idea of making it simple to incorporate a payments mechanism into your app or website, something that’s extremely time-consuming to do. Instead of building their own, developers tapped into Stripe’s ready-made variety and Stripe gets a little money every time someone bangs on the payment gateway.

When you’re talking about some of the biggest companies in the world being involved, and many others large and small, all of those payments running through Stripe’s systems add up to a hefty amount of revenue, and that revenue has led to this amazing valuation.

One other company, you might want to pay attention to here, is UIPath, the robotic process automation company, which was sitting just behind Snowflake with a valuation of over $10 billion. While it’s unclear if RPA, the technology that helps automate legacy workflows, will have the lasting power of a payments API, it certainly has come on strong the last couple of years.

Most of the companies in this report appear for a couple of years as they become unicorns, watch their values soar and eventually go public. Stripe up to this point has chosen not to do that, making it a highly unusual company.